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Slow decline of Highland Park schools continues, no graduating class next year

An empty classroom
Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
O.k., o.k., we know this one is empty, but some high school students in the Detroit Public Schools say their classroom are far from empty.

Highland Park schools can’t afford to offer high school next year, only grades K-8.

There are about 160 kids at Highland Park High school now. That’s only a third of the number of students there three years ago. That’s when district finances got so bad an emergency manager was appointed.

Finances have improved, thanks in large part to $7.4 million in emergency loans from the state. Repayment of those loans is spread out over decades.

The new charter school district that replaced the old Highland Park district has had some financial troubles of it's own.But Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon believes that deficit will be resolved by the end of this school year.

Most of the students who live in Highland Park already attend other schools, according to state data.Enrollment has fallen from nearly 1,000 students in 2011-12, to just over 500 this school year.

Because fewer and fewer students attend Highland Park schools, the emergency manager has decided it’s not feasible to offer high school any more.

“These kinds of decisions are not very easy to make but the numbers just don’t produce the revenue to sustain the high school,” Weatherspoon said during a conference call this afternoon.

The roughly 160 students at the high school now will have to find a home at Detroit Public Schools, a state-run system of low performing schools known as the Education Achievement Authority, or a charter school.

Weatherspoon expects enrollment in K-8 won’t decline next year, even though it has declined every year, since 2007.

A for-profit charter school company, The Leona Group, has run Highland Park schools since the summer of 2012. That company has a five year contract to operate the schools.

It has waived part of its feesto help keep the district solvent. Next year, it’ll collect 10% of all revenue, as opposed to a fixed $780,000 fee, according to Department of Treasury spokesman Terry Stanton.

Requests for comment from Leona were not returned by deadline.

Stanton said it would be "inappropriate" to speculate whether the district could afford to stay open after next year.

"We’re still evaluating just where the district’s going to be based on enrollment,” Weatherspoon said. “The contract is still in place.”

Weatherspoon saidletters were sent home to parents today. There’s a meeting June 8th to help parents and students with their options.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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